Moussa Sène Absa: “My films are continuous tributes to women”

HASMulti-talented artist, Moussa Sène Absa closes his trilogy begun in 1995 with Scrap Table (best photo at Fespaco in 1997), continued with Madam Wheelbarrow in 2002 (Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival), with his latest feature film, Xale, the wounds of childhood. True to form, the director was inspired by the reality of society in the country of Teranga to weave a story around the figure of an adolescent girl, Awa, a young woman whose childhood will come to an abrupt end, a victim of a drama. In the background, it is also everyday life and its concerns that are sketched in this choral film: unemployment, family, migration, love… A film that paints an uncompromising portrait of this society, exposing its evils and taboos to better push to awareness. Recently rewarded, during the 33e edition of the Carthage Cinematographic Days (Tunisia) which crowned the young actress Nguissaly Barry best female interpretation of the competition, the film was selected to represent Senegal at the 95e Oscars ceremony next March. Another spotlight on Senegalese cinema, which has been getting people talking about it lately by broadcasting feature films but also by rewarding Senegalese directors at international meetings. A boom also visible in Senegal, where several cinemas have recently emerged from the ground after a long period during which Dakar there were none left. An encouraging and exciting new dynamism for the local film industry. To go further, Moussa Sène Absa confided in Point Afrique.

The Africa Point: What were your inspirations for Xale, the wounds of childhood ? What are the themes covered in this film?

Moussa Sene Absa: For all my films, I am inspired by what is happening around me: I don’t invent anything, it’s all there! Xale talks about childhood, stolen innocence and the suffering experienced during this period. The plot of the film was inspired by an event that happened in my family: a cousin impregnated his niece. How can an adult impregnate an innocent young girl? Especially since in Senegal uncles are called dad by their nephews and nieces, so it’s akin to incest. I have always wanted to write about such an immoral act. I have a very bitter observation about the way adults look at teenage girls.

There was, in my opinion, a colonization of our eyes. Previously, the bodies of young girls were innocent and protected. They could bathe with their chest uncovered without causing any reactions. From now on, our looks have been distorted by Westernization, which has sexualized these adolescent bodies. Added to this is accelerated urbanization, promiscuity, but also the loss of certain values, including respect for rites and myths. The teenage girls are thrown in the food with the perverse glances. When we read the Senegalese newspapers, we realize that not a day goes by without mentioning a rape by a father, a cousin, etc. Most often, this happens in the family circle, or professional, with teachers who abuse their students. It is always a person who benefits from his ascendancy. The more I talk about it, the more I realize the extent of the problem. I had no idea the extent of the damage. There are many things left unsaid in Senegalese society and it is precisely these that interest me. We must dwell on the evils that plague our society.

I also mention migration, because it is a reality of youth. 100% of the young street vendors that we meet on the roadside in Dakar are aiming to emigrate. The local youth has a hatred and a rage for politicians. For them, politicians are there only for their own account, which leads to a form of rebellion, of inner revolt. There is a loss of respect, a disintegration of the birthright, of a respectful gerontocracy. This questions me and worries me: isn’t a fire smoldering? Young people are not taken into account by the policy. They do not feel loved or considered. They no longer have any attachment to their homeland. They experience a feeling of amorous spite towards Senegal, which they experience as a betrayal. This detachment and hatred combine to create a climate of almost gratuitous violence.

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A large place is given to women in your films and Xale is no exception. Why this choice ? Is it also a film denouncing the violence done to them?

The future belongs to women. I was brought up by them, the circle of my life was feminine. When I was a child, I accompanied my mother all the time. I was told that I was my mother’s daughter. This closeness with them helps me to write my stories, to take a more feminine look when dealing with subjects that concern them. I like the company of women because I appreciate their reflection on the world to appease. They manage to bring tenderness where everything is black and to instill a lot of strength. My films are continuous tributes to women, to their daily strength. I am certain of the considerable contributions of women to society, their place ensures balance and harmony. If the world isn’t working well, it’s because it’s missing a leg, and that leg is women. Women and Africa are not taken into account. If this were the case, the world would be more at peace and respectful of universal values. Certain values, which have become dogmas, deserve to be erased, to disappear. The change is undeniable and we must have a reflection on the society that we want to bequeath to our children.

Senegalese society is very violent towards women: both morally, economically, politically with a power confiscated by men, but also religiously. Women have been pushed into the background by denying them their rights and religion has played a big role in that. Their original place has been lost to men, despite the more matriarchal societies of old. Women are poorly represented in the bodies, they conform to the learning of the roles that have been determined for them. Xale is a modern tale that addresses violence against women (forced marriage, rape, etc.). But the new generation is beginning to question this by gradually shaking up the lines. This generation will sacrifice itself so that the next can get rid of these moorings. This is also what is told in Xale : Fatou frees herself from this husband she doesn’t love, Awa from her rapist. They take their destiny into their own hands to rid themselves of their burdens.

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Music plays a key role in your productions. What does she represent for you? Why this choice ?

Music is a separate character in my films; like an actor, she chants a text. It’s the first frame, what I compose first, because it’s the backbone of my films. The music stays in the head, like the rumour, and raises questions. It’s the subconscious. I am part of a family of griots (poets and itinerant musicians who perpetuate the oral tradition), so it is also a reference to this essential figure and Senegalese culture. It’s unimaginable for me that one of my films doesn’t have music.

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What does cinema represent for you and what should its function be?

It is a mirror of society and a skylight open to the world. He also has a role of tutor, because he educates and also trains in the imagination. Cinema must bring us a form of resistance to the aggressions of the world and sublimate things that trouble us. It’s an almost magical performance with sound, images, etc. It almost touches the divine, because cinema never dies, he is immortal. It is to steal the ear and the eye of the world. It also helps to calm hearts and minds, to allow awareness and resolution.

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How is the film industry doing in Senegal? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

There have been efforts to allow the rise of cinema. The Fopica (Fund for the promotion of the cinematographic and audiovisual industry) has allocated 2 billion CFA francs to the cinematographic sector in Senegal, but it is insufficient. It would take 10! A merger of Fopica and the cinematography department would have been logical and would have made it possible to concentrate efforts and resources. France has created a magical instrument: the National Center for Cinematography (CNC). The model has been copied all over the world, but not in Senegal. As long as we don’t have a CNC to coordinate the sector, development will be limited. This structure will make it possible to have legislation in the cinematographic field, will manage the distribution of films but also the exploitation, or will look into training. There is a deficit there. You need training, but not formatting. We must codify the rules and professionalize.

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Several directors as well as Senegalese films, including yours, have recently been noticed and awarded in international competitions. At the same time, cinematographic infrastructures are springing up after years without cinemas in Dakar. Does this augur a revival of Senegalese cinema?

It’s a big step. We see that something is in the making with these cinemas opening in Dakar. They make it possible to reconnect with the poetry of cinema. Senegalese cinema has always been an avant-garde cinema, long applauded, and which has a tradition of presence on the international scene. Indeed, the industry is in the process of developing: a value chain needs to be rebuilt. For me, it is also important for the cinema to be able to travel to working-class neighborhoods. And, for that, the communes must help in the diffusion of films.

Western narratives are starting to laser. The world would benefit from listening to other stories, be they African, Asian or elsewhere. This also makes it possible to reach silent minorities, long forgotten: these audiences can finally have films made by themselves and for them. With the distinction in international competitions and the diffusion abroad, this allows to shed light on our talents and our realities.

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Moussa Sène Absa: “My films are continuous tributes to women”